Category Archives: 1930s

early1930s

A Primer: 1930’s-1950’s Trousers & Pants For Women

One of the most desired, and often most misunderstood, articles in the vintage wardrobe are the trousers.

Today I’m going to delve a little bit into the basics of the transition of trousers from the 1930’s through the 1950s.  It’s a quick overview so I’m not touching on everything, but it will give you a good starting point!

- A Beginning -

Women and trousers.  It’s a love affair in modern times, but was it in the past?  Well, no- actually.  If you remember good ol’ Amelia Bloomer, she caused quite the scandal by sporting bifurcated garments in the Victorian era.  They called it “Dress Reform”.  It was a fad that wasn’t with the majority, but it did continue in some form or another.  Enter the 1890’s, and there’s bicycling bloomers for women.  Some daring women even start wearing trousers for riding. In the American West, and at places where there were adventures seeking new discovery, women wore pants with more frequency.  They even had a short-lived popularity during the Great War, when women helped out at home (much like they would again in WWII), but it was not widely accepted.

Enter the 1920’s and the “flapper”.  Pajamas are all the rage- in the boudoir and by the seaside.  Some daring women even started wearing men’s trousers.  Was it accepted by the majority?   Definitely not.  But they started gaining in popularity thanks to the seaside, the boudoir, and the new collegiate co-eds!

- The 1930’s -

The 1930’s is when we really see women in trousers get their stride. It was still not accepted by the majority in the early part of the 1930’s.  In fact, studios used to try to keep Kate Hepburn from wearing them between sets in Hollywood, because the photographers would snap her over the studio gates and it was still “shocking”.  But, really, the resorts and the young set, the Hollywood sirens, and the wealthy, are what caused the trousers to catch on.

They were not widely worn, but by the mid 1930’s it was acceptable for wear for sportswear.  They’re mostly seen on campus, at the resort, and in other places if you lived in the warmer climates like Southern California or Florida.  Cannes was a big place for wearing trousers.  How daring!

early1930s

The first half, we see very loosely fitted trousers.  The images above are from 1934.   The “rise” (that is, crotch length), was EXTREMELY low.  Think M.C. Hammer.  Seriously.  Sometimes down to your knees!  Notice here, these are mostly for sporty summer wear.  That is quite common in the 1930s. You don’t often see them “dressed up”, and if you do, it’s usually on the wealthy.

late1930sIn the second half of the 1930’s, trousers really start going crazy.  In 1939 it seemed everyone wanted them, and they were here to stay!  There were lounging ones, playing ones, work ones, beach ones, pajamas… and sometimes even dinner outfits.  The late 1930’s is playful, and trousers fit in perfectly with that ideal.  The image on left is from 1938, and the image on right from 1939.  Still notice, they have the very loose fit.  Trousers were NOT meant to hug your butt.  They really wanted them to fit like a skirt- skimming your hips and rear loosely, then falling to a low crotch, and splitting into a bifurcated garment.

early1940s

This image is from 1942, and this is what most of us think of when we think of vintage women’s trousers or pants.  They’re still for active wear, primarily.  You don’t often see them dressed up.  In some areas women were shunned if they wore pants.  In other areas (including California), they were more widely accepted and sometimes even worn to church- which shocked quite a few (or, so I read, in a 1939 Vogue magazine).

For your WWII impressions, you’ll want a look like these.  Are they suitable for every occasion?  No, if you want to be accurate. But for war work, home front work, gardening, the beach, or for collegiate looks they fit in great!  I wear them all the time in my day to day vintage inspired looks, because I’m honestly not trying to look like I’m out of a time machine- I just want to wear what I like.  But if accuracy is your thing, take heed and consider where you live and what your activity is if you want to wear vintage trousers for WWII impressions.

late1940s

The mid-late 1940’s were all about teen culture.  Swing music was here to stay, and fashion followed the teen trends.  Here we’ve got three girls wearing teen styles.  Women’s trousers for other age groups followed similar lines but were a bit more conservative in tone.  Notice we’re getting the narrower legs as we move to the late 1940’s.  I’m 33, and I’d totally wear all of these outfits, unashamedly.

Also, take note- it’s the first time we see jeans as we think of them now!  Previously, women would have slacks in similar lines to the trousers I pictured made in denim (think my Smooth Sailing trousers), but by the mid 1940’s women had their own version of jeans like the men wore.  Previously, most women would wear men’s jeans if they wanted dungarees.  If we can’t have it, we’ll wear our brother’s until you give up our own. Worked with trousers, and it worked with jeans :)

1950spants

Move into the 1950’s and things get slim.  Some trousers still followed the lines of the late 1940’s one on the far left, that I posted above, but most started getting really narrow legs.  We still don’t have the higher crotch point, like with modern pants (which you’ll notice if you look at the pictures above), but we started moving it a bit upward.   It’s the predecessor of the skinny jean- but mixed with the longer crotch length.  It’s an… interesting… fit ;)

- Let’s Get Technical -

So, what is “Sanforized”?  You may see this on a bunch of old catalog description, and sometimes even printed and woven on old labels.  It is NOT a fabric.  It is NOT a weave.  It’s a PROCESS.  It’s basically pre-shrinking your fabric by treating it.  Sometimes it’s done before sewing, sometimes it’s done after sewing.  This is still a widely used process in the textile industry on natural and cellulose based fibres.

What are “Mannish” or “Man-Tailored” slacks?  These terms were used interchangeably throughout the 1930’s and the 1940’s.  This just means they were a little more tailored- and usually followed the line of men’s trousers of the time.  Women’s trousers, however, almost always fastened up the side instead of the front until you get to the mid 1940s, and even then, it was most common for them to fasten at the side.  You do see them with front fastenings in some snapshots of the 1930’s, but these were usually actual men’s trousers, rather than women’s trousers.  Girls wore them.  Now, boys wear girl’s pants (kidding… kind of).  By the late 1950’s, you see front fastening, back fastening, and side fastening trousers.

What are Dungarees?  Dungarees and Jeans are basically the same thing.  It depends, really, on where you live.  Most people think of Dungarees or Jeans as the casual workwear trousers with topstitching details and pockets- the predecessor of today’s jeans or denim.  Denim is the weave of cotton that jeans or dungarees are made from.  It’s a twill weave and often thicker and sturdier than other twill weaves.  But Dungaree is also a fabric!  The difference between dungaree and denim is when they are dyed.  Dungaree fabric is dyed and then woven, and denim is woven and then dyed.

Now, let’s look at the Rise…

The easiest way to do this is through looking at vintage patterns and their pieces.

PATTERNS1

riseguide

PATTERNS2

Check that out!  See the blue line across the middle?  That shows where all other rises compare with 1930’s rise (crotch length).

Does that explain why your vintage trousers don’t hug your butt the way you expected?

So, long story short- don’t expect to sew from a vintage pattern, or buy original vintage trousers, and have them fit like modern pants.  There’s more to them than the length and leg width!

For a momentary little ad from me… this is why I took SO LONG drafting the Smooth Sailing trousers.  This was originally a pattern and now  can be pre-ordered as ready to wear clothing well.  I was very familiar with the problems of vintage trousers.  They just don’t fit in a way that’s comfortable and flattering to most modern women because of what we’re now accustomed to wearing and seeing.  Because of this, I drafted the Smooth Sailing trousers to be a mid-point between mid-1930’s and modern fit.  They’ve still got a longer crotch line and looser fit from the hip down than modern trousers, but they also don’t ride up your butt like a lot of trousers we see now.  And you can pre-order the Smooth Sailing trousers to help get my clothing line launched!

IMG_3760s__60704.1408402720.1280.1280

And remember- all vintage trousers and pants were meant to fit at your natural waist.  For those who don’t know, that’s where the smallest part of your waist is, near your belly button.  When the 60’s came in we started getting low rise, but before that time, things hit higher.  Now, we call them “high waist”, but they really just sit at where your natural waist is.  We’ve just worn low rise pants for so long that most people have forgotten where the waist technically is located. :)

Want more vintage trouser inspiration?  Check out my Pinterest board for 1930s/40s Women in Trousers!

Do you have any questions about vintage trousers or pants? Let me know in the comments!

Share/Bookmark

Finished Project: 1930’s Polka Dot Blouse

I’m trying to finish up a few little UFO’s before the New Year, and I just happened to have this one finished in time for the Historical Sew Fortnightly’s “Celebrate” challenge.

dot05

The pattern I used was an NRA (National Recovery Act) era pattern, which puts it between 1933 and 1935.  I altered the sleeve a bit, but otherwise it’s as the envelope shows, the version at the top with the short sleeve instead of long sleeves.

I was a bit lazy, and sewed it up to the size the pattern is in, even though I know it’s too big for me.  I figure with the ties, the shirt can be tied in.  I’m somewhere between the dress form size and the original pattern size.  Because it’s a bit large, I was also lazy and didn’t bother with a placket- so it just slips on over the head, then ties to fit.

The fabric is a poly chiffon I bought at an estate sale for $5, and for the hem I did a little zig zag and trimmed away.  It was a pain, but I like how narrow of a finish it is.  I’m not very good at rolled hems, so this was a good choice for me.

Here’s the HSF required info:

The Challenge:  “Celebrate”  Last challenge of the year!

Fabric: Poly chiffon

Pattern: Simplicity 1676, an authentic original 1930’s pattern

Year: 1933-1935 (NRA period)

Notions: Thread

How historically accurate is it? Not very.  The fabric is not accurate, and the finishing is a mix between vintage and modern.  The cut is authentic, of course, since an original pattern was used.

Hours to complete: Maybe around 10-12ish.  Chiffon is fiddly!

First worn: Not yet!

Total cost: Somewhere around $40, including pattern cost.

Finished Project: 1936 Suit Frock

I just finished up this sewing project for the Historical Sew Fortnightly’s “Wood, Metal, & Bone” Challenge.  Since The Dreamstress said that rayon and cocoanut shell were allowed as part of “wood”, this is my entry.

In the 1930s there was a fad called a “suit frock” or “jacket blouse”.  These took the tailored look of a suit and combined it with a more casual alternative.

For this challenge I used two vintage patterns from 1936.  Since they were from the same year, the same size, and the same pattern company, they were based off the same basic blocks and fit together without any extra alterations.  I liked the front of one blouse and the back of another.


The Challenge:  Wood, Metal, & Bone

Fabric: Linen look fabric- blend of linen and rayon.

Pattern: Two vintage McCall patterns

Year: 1936

Notions: Cocoanut shell ship buttons and buckle, metal zipper, metal snaps.

How historically accurate is it? Very.  I used interlocking, which was available in factory made clothing but not in home made clothing.

Hours to complete: Quite a few.  Like usual, I didn’t keep track.  I spent the better part of one day on it, then 15 to 20 minutes throughout the last week every day.

First worn: Yesterday, September 21, 2013, to a friend’s birthday party.

Total cost: I had everything in my stash, so don’t remember what the cost was of each part individually.  I didn’t, however, pay $0.10 each, like the patterns have on them in marker (sadly).

Finished Projects: A White Pique Sports Dress & A Men’s Sports Coat, Circa mid 1930s

The Queen Mary Art Deco Festival was this weekend.  It’s actually still going on today, I believe…  and while I was still a tiny bit puffy faced and still pretty sore from my wisdom teeth surgery, I was determined to play dress up and see friends.  That, and my husband said he would take me to the new tea room on board.  Nothing can keep a girl from her tea!

For this event both my husband and I had something snazzy and new to wear.  He had a new belted back sports jacket and I had a new mid 1930s sports dress.

I had been home and achey all week because of my wisdom teeth surgery, so wasn’t moving very quickly, but was on and off working on drafting up a pattern I had started the weekend before for him based off of two original mid 1930s men’s jackets.  I am not professionally trained to do menswear or tailoring (though I have some on-the-job experience sewing both, but not drafting) so it was very challenging for me, and the pattern went through several phases of advancement, stepping backward, stepping forward, and then, finally, working out the way we both liked.  The fabric is a vintage fabric and it feels like a raw silk and linen or cotton blend.  I am still debating what to do with the pattern I drafted, though my husband says we should do a pattern for Wearing History (it would be a long time coming, if so, so don’t hold your breath).  My husband sewed this coat almost entirely on his own.  Since I was feeling under the weather, I prepped it and instructed him on sewing.  I think he did an amazing job!

My dress just so happens to meet both what I wanted to this event and the most recent Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge of  #18: Re-make, Re-use & Re-fashion.  This dress originally started life as a white cotton pique bed sheet that I picked up at a local thrift store for $5.  I was THRILLED, because good white pique is so hard to find!  I knew it had to be a 1930s sports dress.

I based the pattern on this vintage pattern, dated 1935.  I wanted to change the “lobster bib”, and make it button up the front so I could use fun, red anchor buttons I had in my stash.  I also chose to make the pockets lace up so it had a fun, nautical twist, similar to the feel of these vintage catalog images I posted previously on my blog.  Click the images to be taken to the original posts of the catalog images I scanned and remastered (psst… I’ve been seeing these floating around the internet a lot.  If you want to repost them, please don’t forget to give credit back.  Thanks!)

For the accessories I used a thrifted red belt, a vintage telephone cord clutch that I purchased at a garage sale, and a brand new hat I bought in Old Town San Diego with a 30s/40s vintage flair.  The shoes are also new and were purchased on eBay a couple of years ago.  The “L” brooch was a gift from my good friend, Beth, of V is for Vintage.

For the Historical Sew Fortnightly, here’s the dress details:

The Challenge: #18: Re-make, Re-use & Re-fashion

Fabric:  White cotton pique bed sheet

Pattern: Original vintage McCall pattern, adapted for my style preference

Year: 1935

Notions: Red bakelite anchor buttons, white thread, black star eyelets, red silk ribbon, white rayon seam binding, white invisible zipper.

How historically accurate is it?  Other than the invisible zipper I used for a fastener, this is completely historically accurate.

Hours to complete: 7-ish

First worn: September 1, 2013, to the Queen Mary Art Deco Festival

Total cost: Not including the pattern, around $15.  The buttons were the most expensive part of this outfit.  I believe the pattern was more costly, at around $35.

I want to revisit this outfit, as I think it has great potential, but I was a little unhappy with the fit in the photos.  I want to take it in a tad at the waist and bust, fit the belt more closely, and make a red jacket as in the pattern illustration.  I also have enough pique left over to make a matching hat.

We opted to skip the Art Deco Tea Dance, as both my husband and I were a tad under the weather (me from wisdom teeth, he from throwing out his back), so we took the opportunity to try out the new Tea Room at the Queen Mary.  I believe this opened up last year, and I was very impressed.  In general, I’m not a big fan of the shipboard food (not even the loved Sir Winston’s.  It’s just a personal taste thing), but the tea was very good.  The food was small, like all tea offerings, but perfect size for my post wisdom teeth operation!  It was enough food to fill both my husband and I up.  For $32 per person (a little less than the average cost of a good sit down tea), you get a tower of savory sandwiches, scones with clotted creame, jam, and lemon curd, and then another tower of sweets.  The tea wasn’t to my preference, as I like a STRONG English black tea and these were the more subdued American black tea, but I really did enjoy it and will be back.

We ended the evening with a movie on the top deck, under the stars, watching “The Big Broadcast of 1938″.  Other than being one of my husband’s favorite movies, I’m a big fan of watching old movies on the big screen.  How perfect is it that a 1930’s movie about cruise ships is shown on the Queen Mary?  I hope they repeat the vintage movie night at a future Queen Mary Art Deco Festival.

That’s about all I’ve got!  I took a shameful amount of photos, but it was a great day :)

1930hat3

Beautiful Spring + Summer Hats from 1930

I have a very special treat for you this evening.  Here are some absolutely gorgeous images of hats from the Chicago Mail Order catalog from Spring and Summer 1930.

Aren’t these just exquisite?

Click the image above to read descriptions of the color image below.

Click the image below to read the descriptions of the image above.

Just stunning!  This has to be one of the best periods for hats EVER.  *swoon*

Don’t forget to enter the giveaway that Debbie of Vintage Dancer has generously offered to my blog readers!  The giveaway ends tomorrow night!!  Click here to be taken to the post.

Happy Almost-the-Weekend! :)

Textile Inspiration- Pairing Dress Fabrics, 1939

Hello all!  Long time no post! I’ve been a bad, bad, blogger.

We’re currently working on a new production of His Girl Friday at the La Jolla Playhouse.  I’m so excited, and feel so blessed to be working on one of my favorite movies in one of my favorite time periods and years for fashions!  They’re setting the play in 1939 and I’m loving the costumes we’re building.  Of course, that means I’m wanting to make all sorts of 1939 fashions for myself!  Here’s some great images that I’m inspired by, from the Spring and Summer of 1939 Chicago Mail Order catalog.

What I love about this, and several other fashions from the late 1930s, is how some of them actually look like seperates but are actually a dress!   These dresses often include a few different fabrics in order to get a very tailored look.  In these pages it’s called the “basque styles”.

Even if matching different weight or style fabrics isn’t your thing, these pages are inspiring for what to do with trims.  Bows, buttons, ruffles… you can take a relatively simple dress and add a lot of whimsical details to make it more fun.

Although these styles are aimed at juniors, you can tone the proportions or styles down in you don’t want something so playful or “youthful”.

1939catalog1
1939catalog2

Hope the rest of your weekend is wonderful!

Fred and Ginger- Change Partners Dance

Today I’ve got a great couple of pages of “how to” dance the “Change Partners” dance from Carefree.  Fred and Ginger are my favorites! I can watch their movies over and over.

Click on the images for a bigger version you can read.

These came from “Hollywood Magazine”, October 1938.

Here’s the clip from the movie (via YouTube- not my upload)

If anyone manages to reproduce this dance from these instructions, please do share!

Have a great weekend!